"The best children's stories are wisdom dipped in art and words." -Peter Reynolds

Saturday, April 12, 2014

When We Were Very Young

When We Were Very Young was written by A.A. Milne and illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard. It was first published in 1924 by Dutton Children's Books and then redesigned in 1988. It is a classic collection of children's poems. These poems were written for Milne's own son, named Christopher Robin Milne. Christopher Robin... sound familiar?! In the author's note entitled "Just Before We Begin," Milne explains that his son Christopher named a swan that he frequently feeds, Pooh. And so, the characters of Christopher Robin and Pooh (Bear) are born.

But now let's get to the poems! There is something special about poetry this beautiful and old-fashioned. They are silly and very child-centered. I can see children giggling away at these poems! The poems follow the little boy, Christopher Robin, through his childhood experiences and dreams. Milne's writing style has much repetition and rhythm that any reader will enjoy. The voice of the narrator in these poems is innocent and vulnerable, like a child.

My favorite poem of all from this collection is "Spring Morning." It is lengthy, but it is worth it! I love the descriptive language and how Milne perfectly describes the nature of a child. I admire the silliness with the underlying serious and philosophical undertones. The repetition of the beginning and ending lines is beautifully written and the rhyming is perfectly timed:

"Where am I going? I don't quite know.
Down to the stream where the king-cups grow--
Up on the hill where the pine-trees blow--
Anywhere, anywhere. I don't know.
Where am I going? The clouds sail by,
Little ones, baby ones, over the sky.
Where am I going? The shadows pass,
Little ones, baby ones, over the grass.
If you were a cloud, and sailed up there,
You'd sail on water as blue as air,
And you'd see me here in the fields and say:
'Doesn't the sky look green today?'
Where am I going? The high rocks call:
'It's awful fun to be born at all.'
Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
'We do have beautiful things to do.'
If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You'd lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You'd say to the wind when it took you away:
'That's where I wanted to go today!'
Where am I going? I don't quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow--
Anywhere, anywhere. I don't know."

The illustrations by Shepard are sketched with an ink pen. They are simple in concept but detailed in intricate design. There is at least one small picture to accompany each poem. These simple and child-centered illustrations are perfect for this traditional collection of poems for children. I think children of all ages will enjoy these poems but definitely with the company of an adult for the younger ones. The language is sophisticated for young children and therefore this would make a great read aloud or bed time story for them. But older elementary students, say second grade and above, should be able to read the poems independently. When We Were Very Young is traditionally classic and full of beautiful poetry; and I recommend it to children, parents, and teachers!

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